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Sens. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, and Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County, discuss the Department of Corrections scandal on TVW’s ‘The Impact.’ Click here to see the newscast.
Dear friends and neighbors,
We are nearly three weeks into an eight-week legislative session in Olympia, and already it feels as if we have been here for months. The pace is fast when the Legislature meets at the Capitol for a short 60-day session, as we are doing this year.
My position as chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee has put me in the thick of one of the biggest issues of the year. Mismanagement at the Department of Corrections caused thousands of prisoners to be released ahead of time, resulting in at least two deaths. In a moment I’ll tell you about the latest developments in that case.
Another issue has emerged that is of critical importance to our communities in the Spokane Valley. I am sponsoring a bill that will clear up questions about water rights for our fast-growing cities.
Over the next week, we can expect a frenzy of activity in the House and Senate as policy committees face deadlines for passage of bills. We have until Feb. 5 to pass bills that will receive further consideration this session. At that point we will begin to have an idea what will be accomplished this session. As always, I am here to serve you, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Subpoenas obtained in Corrections case
Last week the Senate Law and Justice Committee obtained subpoenas to launch an independent investigation of the Department of Corrections. This shows we take the matter very seriously.
The Legislature has always had this power. It can conduct investigatory hearings just like the ones we frequently see in Congress – with everything on the record, and witnesses placed under oath. But the Legislature rarely uses this authority. The last time a legislative committee obtained subpoenas was in 1987, in an insurance case.
We took this step primarily because the Legislature has a duty to find out what went wrong at the agency. Some 3,200 prisoners with sentencing “enhancements” for dangerous crimes were released before their sentences had been completed, some nearly two years early. Some committed new crimes when they should have been behind bars. And when informed of the problem three years ago, Corrections did nothing to fix it. The governor also is investigating, as he should. But when we obtained subpoenas, we demonstrated our independent inquiry will not take a back seat. We have asked the governor and the Department of Corrections to produce all records that will shed light on the case.
In coming days we will make further announcements about the way our investigation will proceed. But a bit of testimony we heard in committee Jan. 18 illustrates the need for this inquiry. Corrections secretary Dan Pacholke was asked why the department never checked the sentence calculations being generated by its computers. He responded, “I don’t believe there’s a performance system in place that is going to catch a mistake in a computer algorithm.” We will not accept excuses like these. Two people are dead, possibly more. This wasn’t a computer mistake. This was a people mistake.
Valley business officials paid a visit to talk about the local economy and jobs. From left to right, Steve Trabun, regional business manager for Avista, Barry Baker, president of Baker Construction, Katy Allen, Liberty Lake city administrator, Senator Padden, Katherine Morgan, CEO of the Spokane Valley Chamber, and Steve Peterson, Liberty Lake mayor.
Water for fast-growing Valley communities
This morning the Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Economic Development Committee approved a bill I have sponsored to ensure fast-growing communities in the Spokane Valley have the water they need. Senate Bill 6215 allows certain agricultural water rights to be used for municipal water systems. It sounds technical, but it is of major importance for the communities of the Valley.
The Department of Ecology has signaled that new water rights will be difficult to come by in the Spokane Valley. But that doesn’t mean we’re short on water. Old irrigation water rights, the legacy of a hundred years of farming in the Spokane Valley, could offer a solution. The trouble is that current law does not provide a mechanism for an irrigation water right to recognized for a municipal purpose.
This is a big issue in the city of Liberty Lake, where the population has tripled in the last 15 years. In 2002, the city purchased the Trailhead Golf Course, and with it the right to 1,250 acre-feet of irrigation water. It hopes to transfer some of that water to other parks, and to use the wastewater in the Liberty Lake sewer and water system. The bill will prove useful to other communities as well – for instance, the Pierce County city of Parkland spent a decade adjusting a water right to use for municipal purposes. A simpler process would make matters simpler and faster.
Transgender bathroom access
A new open-bathroom policy from the state Human Rights Commission has caused an enormous stir, and we are starting to see reaction from the Legislature. The commission, with little public input, decreed that all sex-segregated facilities in the state shall be opened to transgendered persons. This means restrooms, locker rooms, showers, shelters and other such accommodations. This attempt to create new rights for a small community has horrified female victims of sexual violence, as well as women who fear for their privacy if they are forced to shower and undress with persons who have male anatomy.
On Wednesday the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee passed a bill I have co-sponsored, SB 6443, which repeals the Human Rights Commission rule. On Monday the Law and Justice Committee will consider another bill I have co-sponsored, SB 6548, allowing public and private entities to set their own policies regarding access to sex-segregated facilities. Both bills offer a solution. I hope the House will demonstrate its sensitivity to women’s issues by assisting in the passage of this legislation.
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This news comes to you from Sen. Mike Padden.